, Volume 67, Issue 12, pp 1961-1970,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 09 Aug 2013

Why do female mice mate with multiple males?


Females often show multi-male mating (MMM), but the adaptive functions are unclear. We tested whether female house mice (Mus musculus musculus) show MMM when they can choose their mates without male coercion. We released 32 females into separate enclosures where they could choose to mate with two neighboring males that were restricted to their own territories. We also tested whether females increase MMM when the available males appeared unable to exclude intruders from their territories. To manipulate territorial intrusion, we introduced scent-marked tiles from the neighboring males into males' territories, or we rearranged tiles within males' own territories as a control. Each female was tested in treatment and control conditions and we conducted paternity analyses on the 57 litters produced. We found that 46 % of litters were multiply sired, indicating that multiple paternity is common when females can choose their mates. Intrusion did not increase multiple paternity, though multiple paternity was significantly greater in the first trial when the males were virgins compared to the second trial. Since virgin male mice are highly infanticidal, this finding is consistent with the infanticide avoidance hypothesis. We also found that multiple paternity was higher when competing males showed small differences in their amount of scent marking, suggesting that females reduce MMM when they can detect differences in males' quality. Finally, multiple paternity was associated with increased litter size but only in the intrusion treatment, which suggests that the effect of multiple paternity on offspring number is dependent on male–male interactions.

Communicated by C. Soulsbury